A Travellerspoint blog

Armistice Day in Paris: A Day of Remembrance

For My Father

It's probably not impossible for me to have a bad day in Paris, but I can't think of one. I have had several top of the line, it-doesn't-get-better-than-this days. More than my share. Today was one and it was all rather unexpected.

I had plans to meet an American friend who lives in Paris for lunch. It was her turn to pick the place and we met at a tiny Japanese restaurant in St. Germaine. We had not realized that it would be so busy, possibly since it was Armistice Day and many people have the day off to celebrate. In the US we call this day Veterans Day and although some people have the day off, mostly we have sales.

Since the Japanese restaurant was full, we went to Le Petit Chatelet a few steps from the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. I mostly ignore the restaurants in this area because they veer toward touristic menus. Not this place. Au contraire. I had the best meal I've had since I got to Paris.
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This is a small place with a wood-burning fire that is used, not for the decor and the ambiance, but to cook on. Wow. We arrived as they were opening and it was empty. It quickly filled up with every seat taken. We both had three courses, which I never do. I had an artichoke mousse for an appetizer. It was served with bread that had been toasted over the fire. My friend had a seafood melange over zucchini with flavors I couldn't figure out, but they were incredible. Her main dish was fish with capers which was indescribably moist and delicious. My entree was a lamb kabob with an array of vegetable chunks which had been cooked over the open fire. The crust on the lamb was perfect, the seasoning amazing, and the vegetables were burnt on the edges from the flames. I ate every piece of everything and then had the nerve to order dessert because they had profiteroles. We split a dessert, thank goodness, because there were two giant confections that no one could finish. This was a perfect meal.
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To follow that, my friend told me there was an ecumenical service honoring Veterans about to start across the street at Notre Dame. It was sponsored by the Royal British Legion so it was all in English. Off we went.

My father was a World War II Marine and I have always respected Veterans and try to honor them. But never before have I been to anything that truly captured the spirit of remembering as this ceremony honoring the 97th Anniversary of the Armistice. A piper led the procession into the Cathedral, followed by flag bearers. There were several speakers and prayers, but one of the more powerful parts of the service were two young students who read poems each had written. One was called "Remember World War I" and the other was "Do Not Forget." As a former teacher, I was impressed by their words. I couldn't help wondering if Americans students could ever write so movingly about a war that happened so many years ago and not on our soil. Sadly, we don't do a great job teaching history in the US, in my opinion.
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The British Ambassador gave a reading and the Reverend Alyson Lamb presented an address about remembering the wars in order to deal with today's troubled and violent times. Red poppies were pinned to everyone's clothes and the program ended with everyone singing the British National Anthem. The US stole this and wrote new words. We call it "My Country "Tis of Thee."

For the first time in my life, I felt part of an event that truly honored Veterans. Especially those who have lost their lives fighting for their countries.

My father loved a good meal. He was, especially in his later years, proud of his Marine service.

Today I honored him. From a perfect meal to a perfect ceremony in the historic Cathedral of Notre Dame. Semper fi, Daddy. Thinking of you.

Posted by teethetrav 08:57 Archived in France Tagged notre_dame semper_fi royal_british_legion veterans_day armistice_day le_petit_chatelet Comments (0)

Paris Keys

With Thanks to David Lebovitz

People worry about me when I travel. I worry too, but not about normal things like getting robbed. That can happen anywhere and did actually happen to me in my quiet suburban town when burglars broke into my house and ransacked it, looking for who knows what.

I worry about odd things. In Paris, I obsess about keys. I was embarrassed to admit this until I recently read David Lebovitz's blog and learned that being neurotic about keys is a thing in Paris. If you don't know David Lebovitz, he was a pastry chef at the original US farm to table restaurant, Chez Panisse. (Other countries have always been farm to table, but that's another essay.) Leibovitz is now a cookbook author who lives in Paris and has a food blog.

Getting in and out of your apartment in Paris is complicated. There's a lot of security. Seriously. Most buildings in Paris are old, so locks and entries have had to be retrofitted and updated. This usually means a box with a push button system and a code. More recently, an electronic key fob has been added so now you can wave this against your box instead of using the code. It gets worse.
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My last apartment had a gate with a code. Once inside the gate you needed to use the code to enter the building. The first entry in most buildings only gets you into the foyer. There's another door with a locking system; either a key, a code, or a buzzer. Finally, there is a key or a code to get you into your apartment. My friend, who lives in a much fancier place than me has an added layer of security. She has to code her elevator. My key, a skeleton key, is as old as the building and sticks. Once inside, you are supposed to place the key on the inside and double lock your door. Although this seems like a risky fire hazard, at least you always know where your key is. Are you still with me?
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None of this is easy. I have a terrible memory for numbers and used to carry around my code on a scrap of paper. Last time I was here I blanked and suddenly forgot my code. It was late and there had been a lot of wine involved, it's true, but suddenly I couldn't remember my code and had to fumble around to find my scrap of paper with my code. That was scary.

With my latest apartment and my electronic key, all I have to worry about is not leaving my key in the apartment, since the magic key fob overrides the need for the code. My fear of locking myself out is nearly paralyzing. I check again and again to make sure I have my key and my phone before I leave the apartment. The phone is in case I have to call someone if I get locked out. Which happened. Through no fault of my own.

Returning home one evening, I waved the fob against the box and voila! Nothing. Still calm and in disbelief, I tried the code which I had written on the key. Nothing. Dead.

Banging on the door is useless since, if you remember, there is a foyer with another door before you get inside, so you can bang forever and no one will hear you. Long, complicated, panic-stricken story later, my rental agent was finally reached. He did not have a physical key to my outer door either. Phone calls were made, my phone was down to 15% power, more panic ensued. Eventually the owner of the apartment managed to telephone an upstairs neighbor who came down and let me in. Apparently, a circuit breaker had tripped on the lower floor and there was no electricity to power either the code box or the magic electronic key. The upper floors still had electricity so were unaware of my key crisis out on the street. So much for technology.

My worst fear had come true. I got locked out and it wasn't even my fault. After this happened, I read David Leibovitz's blog where he talks about the thriving industry of locksmiths in Paris due to people locking themselves out and/or losing their keys. That was no comfort, but at least I now know I'm not alone in my fear and loathing of Paris keys.
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Posted by teethetrav 07:40 Archived in France Tagged keys paris_keys david_lebovitz chez_panisse Comments (1)

Paris Markets: Part 6

Sundays in Paris

Another Sunday; another market to explore. I'm going to run out of Sundays long before I run out of markets. To add to my challenge, next week many of the Christmas markets will open. No big surprise, but I have a list of my must visit markets. Even if it doesn't feel the least bit like Christmas is near since the weather has been go-out-without-a-jacket warm.

This Sunday I went to the Marche Raspail, also known as the Marche Biologique since each food vendor has to be certified as only producing and selling organic products. I went with low expectations, but ended up thrilled. This is one market I have to come back to. Since it only exists on Sundays, that presents a problem if I'm to visit all the markets on my list. So many markets. So little time.
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The market is several blocks long and has a wonderful array of food and clothing vendors. There are no bargains here, as you can find at some other markets. But the clothes are beautiful with an array of hats, cashmere scarves, linens, and beautifully made baby clothes. The colors of the flowers and the vegetables make me wish I knew how to paint.
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As I walked through the stalls, the aromas were seductive. Fresh crepes, breads, olives, the usual chickens slowly turning on the rotisserie, sausages, sun-dried tomatoes, quiches, fresh pasta, and the always tempting cheeses. My favorite stand had olives, tapenade, fresh pasta and an assortment of artichokes.
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I go early to the markets to avoid the crowds and to leave the rest of the day for wandering. Sundays, it seems, there is always something going on and something new to see. Last Sunday, the same day as the New York marathon, there was a race through the streets and along the Seine. There were also people showing off their roller skating skills, including this Bill Murray look alike.
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It was a lovely, clear day and the view of Notre Dame and its flying buttresses (I love that phrase) from the Pont St. Louis was spectacular. Sundays go by quickly. Although, at the end of the day I have all that amazing food I bought at the market waiting.
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Posted by teethetrav 03:39 Archived in France Tagged paris notre_dame pont-neuf paris_markets bill_murray raspail_marche marche_biologique Comments (0)

Paris: Neighborhood Walk

Beaubourg

Every neighborhood in any city has its own unique atmosphere. My temporary home in Paris is no exception. I currently live on the western edge of the 4th arrondissement in an area known as Beaubourg, a short block away from Paris's town hall which is housed in the building known as L'Hotel de Ville. There are busy shopping streets such as the Rue de Rivoli and Boulevard de Sebastopol that criss-cross the area. But if you turn off the main streets, there are dozens of tiny, winding walkways to explore. There are fun boutiques to discover as well as endless cafes. The Hippy Market is a second-hand shop I stumbled across on one of my walks.
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The most popular destination in the area is the Pompidou Center, a modern art museum named after Georges Pompidou which is most famous for its controversial architecture. It was designed to be inside out. All of the escalators, elevators, and normal building innards are on the outside of the structure. I find the adjacent square and Stravinsky Fountain far more interesting. Named after the composer Igor Stravinsky, colorful sculptures by the artist Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband sit in the water surrounded by the fountain. If you listen, the water emerging from each sculpture is supposed to sound like a Stravinsky composition!!!! Behind the Fountain stands the St. Merri Church which dates back to the 1500s. Catty-corner to the church is a huge mural called Chuuuttt!Ssshhh! I love the juxtaposition of old and new here. The artwork and sculptures side by side with a gothic church just makes me smile.
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There are two cafes where you can sit across from the Stravinsky Fountain and enjoy the view. One is Dame Tartine which has reasonable prices with good food and blackboard specials every day. The other is Creperie Beaubourg which not only serves crepes, but omelettes and salads, as well. If you desire a glass of wine, Dame Tartine is the place to go since the Creperie only serves coffees and soft drinks.
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Posted by teethetrav 07:58 Archived in France Tagged les_halles pomidou_center beaubourg stravinsky_fountain dame_tartine creperie_beaubourg st._merri_church Comments (0)

Perfume in Paris

Fragonard Perfume Museum

I adore perfume. I find scents seductive and, of course, they are designed to seduce. We all seem to be attracted to different types of fragrance; florals, orientals, fruits and naturals for example. To make perfume even more interesting, scents smell differently on each person due to body chemistry. I have no idea what attracts me to a perfume. There are many scents which I can barely tolerate. But the few scents I'm attracted to are addictive. And I love discovering a new scent.

If you are a perfume lover (or eaux de toilette for men) The Fragonard Perfume Museum is a perfect way to spend an hour or so, in my opinion. Across the street from the Opera Garnier, the Museum is entirely free. At the end of the tour, you are invited to sample scents and make purchases at factory prices, but there is no obligation to buy. Of course I did, but several people in my little group left without sampling the scents and no one was made to feel guilty.operahouse.jpg

Guided tours are provided as soon as anyone shows up. They are given in English, French, Chinese, and I suppose in whatever other language you may speak. The museum is now is its new location where it opened in October, 2015. Your guide provides a brief history of perfume, bottles, and an explanation of how perfumes are made, beginning with how the flowers are cultivated. Many are still picked by hand which explains why perfume is so costly. Of course, there are different levels of scent ranging from perfume--the best--down to eau de cologne; the weakest. Most perfumes are kept in beautifully designed glass bottles. According to my guide, glass only keeps the scent for up to two years. Fragonard uses metal which, they claim, keeps the scent up to six years. I'm sure I'll use mine up by then, so I'll never know. There are fascinating artifacts and old perfume bottles inside the museum, but you are not allowed to take photos inside.
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One fascinating detail I learned about was the job of the "nez". There are only 50 expert "noses." Most are in France. These all people who have an instinctive heightened ability to smell different scents, but their gift must be trained for up to six years.

You can only sniff about five scents at one time before your sense of smell gets lost. For me, the clear stand out was Belle Cherie, one of the florals. 90_mychoice.jpg

Posted by teethetrav 05:14 Archived in France Tagged paris nez the_nose fragonard museum_of_perfume free_things_todo_in_paris Comments (0)

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